Does Your Elderly Loved One Need a Hearing Test?

Older man and woman or pensioners with a hearing problemDoes your elderly loved one need a hearing test? If it’s been more than a year since they had one, the simple answer is “Yes!” However, several factors can make a correct diagnosis of hearing loss and a viable solution difficult to achieve. Still, there are important reasons to try to improve hearing sooner than later.
A Personal Example
In the past six months, my husband (80) and I (76) both had our hearing tested. Both of us were diagnosed with about the same amount of hearing loss that, we were told by a licensed audiologist, could be improved with hearing aids. Because my husband has early-stage Alzheimer’s disease and arthritic fingers, I wanted to try wearing them first, to see if we thought the improvement in my hearing would be worth the struggle he was sure to have with remembering to put them on and do it correctly.
To make maintenance easier, I purchased hearing aids that didn’t require tiny batteries but could be placed in a charger overnight. I was hoping to be able to hear the television without turning the volume up so much that it was irritating to others, and to be able to hear and more easily understand what my soft-spoken husband was saying. I was excited to try the” by-cell-phone” adjustment feature, but I knew that couldn’t be part of his experience, as he is only able to manage a flip phone.
When I started wearing them, I could hear the TV at a much lower volume level. However, hearing and understanding my husband required some adjustments to my hearing aids by the specialist and my husband remembering to enunciate clearly and speak in a deeper voice, as his speech therapist had taught him.
Observing my improvements, my husband decided to go in to be fitted. In spite of his dementia and arthritis, the audiologist assured us that, with consistent use, he would be able to learn how to put them in, and we brought home a pair like mine, minus the phone app. He noticed some surprising improvements: he could hear his own voice better and spoke more clearly as a result. He could also hear his feet sliding on the floor when he shuffled, and thus his walking improved somewhat. Now, we could both hear the TV on the same volume setting.
However, after two weeks of trying, he still can’t put them on correctly. I have to put them on for him, especially if we are in a hurry. That’s frustrating, but we persist, because both of us know that his ability to hear better positively affects his cognition and hopefully will help to keep his hearing and his mental acuity  from declining more rapidly.
Why You or Your Loved one?
If you are over the age of 50, experts recommend that you have your hearing checked every 1 – 3 years. Like an annual physical exam, this can be an important habit to develop. Why? Consider these findings:

  • There’s a strong correlation between aging and hearing loss. About 14% of people ages 45 to 64 have some degree of hearing loss. That rises to more than 30% in people who are 65 or older. Gender, family history, race, and occupation can also play a role.
  • Hearing loss is often a gradual process, so a person might not realize they have trouble hearing.
  • Although hearing loss caused by aging can’t be stopped, hearing aids can slow the impairment, and the sooner you get them the more they can help you to hear.
  • Hearing loss affects mental state and overall well-being. It has been linked to social isolation and the ability to enjoy life, which can greatly impact health.
  • Having trouble hearing can make it hard to understand and follow a doctor’s advice, respond to warnings, and hear phones, doorbells, and smoke alarms.
  • Studies have shown that cognitive abilities (including memory and concentration) decline faster in older adults with hearing loss. Treating hearing problems can be important for cognitive health.
  • On average, hearing aid users wait ten years before seeking help for their hearing loss. They experience years of inadequate hearing, and they could have difficulty communicating, a sense of isolation, and increased health risks because of it.

Hearing tests can reveal changes in hearing, and preventative measures can be implemented in time to deter some permanent hearing loss. Click this link and scroll down the page to find a simple test that could help tell if you or your loved one has a hearing problem. Answering “yes” to three or more of the questions is a sign that you should see your doctor. Other signs include:

  • Having trouble hearing over the telephone
  • Finding it hard to follow conversations when two or more people are talking
  • Asking people to repeat what they are saying
  • Thinking that others mumble
  • Having difficulty understanding women and children or hearing tones at the high end of the scale.

Prior to your hearing test, the doctor should check your ear canals for earwax. A buildup of ear wax can affect your hearing – and hence the accuracy of your hearing test results. 
Hearing Loss and Dementia
The symptoms of hearing loss can be similar to some of the early signs of dementia. One condition may mask the other. For example, struggling to follow a conversation could be a symptom of either dementia or hearing loss. Sometimes, because they don’t hear well, older people are mistakenly thought to be confused, unresponsive, or uncooperative.
If a person with dementia has hearing loss, it could make a correct diagnosis more difficult. You could assume that there is no point having a hearing test because they might have difficulties following instructions during the assessment. For example, my husband was asked to count from 20 to 30, but he began counting at one. It’s still important to have regular hearing tests that can be adapted for people with dementia, if needed.
Many older people struggle to use hearing aids correctly. It can take time for a person to get used to a hearing aid, and it will take a person with dementia longer. It is also important to consider whether a hearing aid is the best option – an audiologist should be able to give you helpful advice.
When Hearing Aids Don’t Solve the Problem
Your elderly loved one and your family can work together to make living with permanent hearing loss easier. Try doing these things:

  • Tell your friends and family about the hearing loss so they will understand and can help.
  • Ask people to face the person when they talk. Seeing their lips move and their expressions might make understanding easier.
  • Ask people to speak louder, but not shout. Tell them not to talk more slowly, just more clearly.
  • Be aware of background noise that can make hearing conversations more difficult. For example, when you go to a restaurant, don’t sit near the kitchen or where music is loudest.

It will take time for your loved one to get used to watching people as they talk and for family and friends to always speak louder and more clearly. Because every situation is different, Dakota Home Care assigns experienced Home Health Aides and nurse managers to assess and provide in-home care for your loved one, as well as support and education for you and your family. We will patiently work together with you and your family to help care for a loved one with hearing loss and other challenges. We will draft and implement an individualized plan for care and wellness. To receive a free consultation, call (701) 663-5373.
Hearing better is worth the effort. To improve and preserve hearing for you and your loved ones as you age, start adding yearly hearing tests to your list of annual medical exams.
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